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Immunity law sparks fresh violence

A new law granting sweeping immunity to Yemen's president and anyone who served in his authoritarian regime over the past 33 years has sparked fresh violence and brought condemnation from human rights groups.

The law passed late on Sunday by the cabinet just weeks before President Ali Abdullah Saleh is supposed to step down is part of a US-backed effort to end the country's political quagmire.

But the broad immunity from prosecution has only set off new debates about whether it gives suspected war criminals and corrupt officials a free pass or is a sacrifice necessary for the country to move forward.

The immunity would also cover those behind deadly crackdowns that have killed more than 200 protesters in Yemen's uprising - part of the Arab Spring revolts that have swept through countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Should parliament pass the law, a formality expected in the coming days, it will make it impossible to try officials accused of wrongdoing.

However, human rights groups say such trials are essential in a hugely corrupt country where thousands of civilians have been killed in internal conflicts over the past few decades.

Amnesty International called the law "a smack in the face for justice".

Navi Pillay, the United Nations' top human rights official, said last week that an amnesty for those accused of gross human rights violations or war crimes breaks international law. "Such an amnesty would be in violation of Yemen's international human rights obligations," she said.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets across Yemen to reject the law and call for Mr Saleh to stand trial. In the central city of Taiz, an uprising hotspot, thugs in civilians clothes fired on thousands of protesters demonstrating in front of the regional governor's office, killing one and injuring three.

One attacker was also killed when armed tribesmen who support the protests fired back. Protest organisers rejected the law.

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